Adjustments to agriculture practices can play a significant role in attaining Canada’s lower carbon emissions commitment, according to a recently released report from Value Change Management International (VCMI).
The report, entitled Low Carbon Food Production, suggests commercial benefits and opportunities are possible if businesses are willing to adapt to and profit from environmental initiatives.
“Because so much of the carbon is related to agricultural production, the downstream part of the chain cannot do this without the help of farmers working towards it,” said Martin Gooch, VCMI co-founder and chief executive officer.
“That’s the power farming has; they (farmers) can take the lead on this because they need to take the lead on it.”
Why it matters: Canada has committed to reducing GHG emissions by 40 to 45 per cent below 2014 levels in the next eight years, which may require adjustments in farming practices to lower agriculture’s carbon footprint.
The study said the global food industry represents one-third of anthropogenic, or human-caused, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, which is why approximately 200 countries and states have committed to GHG reductions.
“It’s all the inputs that go into agriculture, you’ve got the manufacturing of equipment, you’ve got the fuel, the fertilizer, the methane produced within livestock production,” said Gooch. “The burping of cattle, some scientists have estimated, equates to 10 per cent of all human-related GHG emissions.”
These commitments are increasing pressure on the food industry to adopt low-carbon business approaches. However, many agri-food businesses are balking at the increased scrutiny with defensive posturing and few meaningful strategies in the face of higher business costs.
Gooch has spent the past three decades identifying successful adaption to changing market demands within international agribusiness management by identifying avenues where agri-food businesses could develop close, strategic relationships and innovative business practices to their benefit.
Currently, the best-known way of reducing carbon emissions is by sequestering carbon through soil management, placing farmers in the driver’s seat of this international commitment.
Gooch said farmers can adopt the Norfolk Four Course, a proven system of utilizing cover crops, mixed farming or a combination of those approaches to improve soil health.
The livestock industry is an example of where effective management of grassland livestock can result in a higher sequestration per grassland acre than is accomplished through tree planting.
“With grassland livestock, you’re sequestering carbon through the reabsorption by the grassland,” said Gooch. “This helps balance the amount of carbon the livestock is giving out. So you’ve got balance between sequestrations and emissions.”
Although international commitments place the food industry under increasing pressure to adopt low-carbon practices, it also provides commercial opportunity.
“Improving soil health gives you improved yields,” said Gooch. “In reducing carbon, farmers can reduce costs and potentially increase revenue, leading to higher margins, increased profitability and preferential access to high-value markets.”
These commitments can also translate into increased competitiveness and profitability opportunities via carbon offset financial rewards and preferred supplier status.
For many consumers, environmental impact plays a role in purchasing decisions.
“If retailer A can demonstrate greater ability to sell foods with a proven lower environmental footprint than retailer B, environmentally conscious consumers will trend towards retailer A,” said Gooch. “Hence, both retailer A and their suppliers will enjoy more commercial opportunities than retailer B.”
The responsibility doesn’t rest solely on any specific aspect of the agri-food industry but requires a collective effort to attain these changes.
“We need to make sure we’re encouraging change through incentivizing the industry. That starts with the customer, the customer who’s buying farmer’s products,” said Gooch. “And in conjunction with farmers that want to change. They see the opportunities and they’re motivated to do so.”